The once independent and fearless Australian Transport Safety Bureau has declared that the power failure experienced by Qantas flight QF2 on descent into Bangkok on 7 January was “less serious than first reported”.

Such a relief. The jet with 365 people on board was merely down to one quarter of its generated power supply and relying on a battery which was certain to fail within minutes of a fortuitous broad daylight touch down on a proper runway it already had in sight.

As revealed in the report, the flight was operating with degraded flight controls and incomplete or compromised instrumentation.

Qantas pilots tell us that once the battery died, the 747-400, had it been over Antarctica, where it was on New Year’s Day, or in night conditions over India, or just a little bit further away from Bangkok, would have been in diabolical trouble.

So why would the ATSB so obsequiously peddle the “less serious than first reported” line which in fact originated from Qantas telling the media that a total failure of the electrical distribution system has occurred in a jet which the investigator now describes as awash with “dirty” and “smelly water.”

Is this apparently gratuitous attempt to downplay an exceptionally serious and continuing investigation motivated by the same thinking that saw the ATSB decide not to investigate the pumping of lethal nitrogen gas into supplementary oxygen packs intended for use in Qantas aircraft by maintenance staff in Melbourne last October?

Or is it just the gutlessness that saw it decline to investigate the illegal continuation of a REX flight on a single engine with more than 30 passengers on board from Wagga Wagga to Sydney in the same month after the other engine failed after take off.

The new Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, has taken over a portfolio which was declining into a dangerous farce under his Coalition predecessor Mark Vaile, who was ineffectual in curbing serious failures in the public administration of air safety by CASA, the regulator, and the ATSB, the investigator.

Will the minister listen to soothing voices telling him everything is alright, or will he enforce the full intent and purpose of the aviation safety laws?

Serious questions have arisen which CASA, the safety regulator, is ignoring. Why are decrepit, dirty, smelly Qantas jets being kept aloft when they should be kept clean and dry and thus safe from the risks of mixing electricity and water?

Is the system of Minimum Equipment Lists, which allow jets to remain in service with a number of defects, being abused?

Are the managers who insist on jets remaining in service when they ought to be more thoroughly maintained out of touch with maintenance and flight standards personnel who understand safety issues?

How did Qantas get into a situation where 14 out of 30 Boeing 747s (of varying models and ages) all had similar defects in plumbing and the “drip shields” that protect electrical components from water?

Is the reporting of similar plumbing issues with Boeing 767s (typically used on domestic Cityflyer services) indicative of a common cause or a decline in the safety culture of the airline?

Could greed and the constant pressure by bonus-driven managers to find yet deeper and deeper layers of cost cutting be pushing Qantas into seriously risky territory?

Peter Fray

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